Nov 2019 - Visit to ISTAC

Visit to ISTAC

20th November 2019

Personal account by Cheryl Brophy-Chan


Nineteen MCG members headed to the exclusive establishment known as ISTAC-IIUM, that is nestled in a leafy area of Bukit Tunku close to Publika. 


ISTAC-IIUM is the acronym of the ‘Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilization, International Islamic University of Malaysia’.

On the day, I remember driving up a concealed slope towards an Islamic arched, canopied doorway. I stepped out of the car, climbed a few steps and approached what seemed like a huge medieval wooden door. As it opened, my eyes widen in astonishment, as the grand entrance exceeded my expectations. In the centre, the immense dark wooden staircase dominated the room. I followed its sinuous balustrade and noted the regularity of each baluster. Immediately, the welcoming staff brought me back to my senses, and helpfully directed me to where the MCG were milling around a large wooden dining table. Surrounding us, the crisp, white walls cooled the air and large ceramic plates and framed paintings held our attention while we waited briefly for our tour to begin.

Once assembled, we listened intently to explanations about the cultural artefacts near us. Then, snaked our way round the mighty staircase and followed our guide through the first of many impressive archways, each one impeccably fitted with curved, studded, carved doors. We filed into a vast assembly room, with pure white walls, contrasting dark wooden features, and a balcony on three sides above us. Here the group remained in awe and quiet reverence, as at first, we were uncertain of the purpose of this large hall. Maybe the heavy, church-like carved pews all facing a podium and lectern, suggested a place of worship. I saw no inscriptions or religious artefacts though, so I enquired and discovered that we were in fact standing in a university lecture hall. I then perched myself on one of the pews and gazed upwards at the distinctive ceiling. Painted white, the ceiling was adorned with a wooden, square, latticed, structure, from which eight inch posts protruded downwards at each cross-section. It was as if a hefty portcullis, had been skilfully constructed and somehow hoisted and suspended high above us

Next, our guide directed us towards the left windows, and out onto a minimal picturesque courtyard. Leaving the coolness, we willingly embraced the intense heat and sunshine. Immediately we felt transported, as if we were standing on a terrace in Spain, similar to the Alhambra Palace with its elegant fountains. Now with thoughts back in KL, we surveyed the landscape, snapped a few views and gradually moved onto another building. We entered through three sets of doors, passing a polished, winding staircase, before finally being granted a privileged access to the university’s immense library. Here, we stood and absorbed the grandeur and scale of the impressive collection. Then seated in the Reference Library, we watched an informative presentation given by the proud Librarian. 

From there, we progressed to a private meeting room equipped with an oval ring-shaped table and microphones. We waited briefly until the arrival of Professor Datuk Dr Osman Bin Bakar. He was very informative, and approachable. He was patient, and willing to answer many questions about: the Islamic faith, the Post Graduate courses, the nationality of the students or any architectural aspects of the institution and much besides. During his talk, he clarified that ISTAC is an international Post Graduate research centre, not a teaching institution. He stated that here, both Muslim and non-Muslim students study together. Further, that ISTAC’s emphasis is on comparative studies between the differing cultures.


Towards the end of his discussion, the Professor proposed that we could join their mailing list, and partake in the regular lectures open to the public on Wednesday and Friday evenings every two weeks.


Aside from my observations, below are more facts, some of which we learnt on the day:

  • This new ISTAC complex was built in 2007 to stage international conferences.

  • The founder employed a local architect, and proposed the design should reflect Spanish architecture.

  • Previously, the Institute was based in a smaller campus in Damansara.

  • Currently the Institute has 68 students, though it has the capacity for up to 200 students 

  • Students can study either Post Graduate Studies or Master PhDs.

  • At present there are more women than men studying at the campus.

  • The library is officially known as ‘Syed Muhammad Naquib al-Attas Library’, after it’s founder who started to amass books way back in 1987. The library consists of approximately 150,000 books, and 12 private collections. It is considered to be one of the top three in KL. Its catalogue is available online. Aside from their own students, the collections, rare books, and manuscripts are available to both visiting scholars and researchers. 

  • Incidentally, every four years the complete library is sealed for cleaning. They fumigate the library in order to kill any bugs and prevent any fungus.


Overall, this was an intriguing MCG tour, which yet again surpassed my expectations.


ISTAC, Vision:

“To be a world-leading international centre of Islamic learning and research in the general field of Islamic thought and civilisation and comparative cultural and civilisational studies that is dedicated to the renewal of human civilisation.”



No. 24, PersiaranTuanku Syed Sirajuddin,

Taman Duta 50480

Kuala Lumpur



Contact details:

Telephone: +603-64211200